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Friends detail Elaho raft accident


The life of a 17-year-old girl with a rich history of volunteerism on her resume lost her life last weekend on what was supposed to be a fun adventure.

Alison Roberge was part of a Girl Guide rafting trip with two adult leaders and five young girls on the Elaho River Saturday (May 14). The fun ended soon after the river raft left the bank and entered the strong pull of the glacier fed river.

Eleven minutes and one kilometre into the trip the 4.9-metre (16-foot) self-bailing raft hit a rock in the Cheeseball area.

Roberge, a junior Girl Guide leader, was ejected from the raft along with six others. She floated downstream and according to recollections from the others, Roberge and one of the other young passengers in the raft came close enough that they could grab each briefly before a strong wave separated them.

Roberge floated for as much as 45 seconds through the area known as Devil's Elbow.

Steve Moir, the owner of Elaho River Adventures and the raft guide who piloted the ill-fated trip, reported in a news release issued Tuesday (May 17) that Roberge was pinned against a submerged log.

A safety kayaker noticed Roberge was under the water downstream of the elbow and he went to her. The kayaker pulled her to the surface and initiated first aid.

According to Cindy Blatny, one of the adult Girl Guide leaders on the trip, the kayaker abandoned his kayak to get Roberge out from under the log. He was doing CPR while floating with her toward the east side of the river, Blatny said.

"The passenger was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics and taken by ambulance to Squamish General Hospital," Moir reported in his news release.

Guide leaders Blatny and Monique Laskovic said they wanted to share details of the trip with The Chief to correct what they said was misinformation presented by media outlets in Vancouver.

Blatny insisted no children were ever on the safety kayak as reported earlier. Instead she said the safety kayaker attempted to use a rope with a float on it to help two of the young girls to get themselves to shore.

The spilled passengers were spread throughout the watercourse. They had little contact with each other in the river.

There were two rafts on the trip. The other raft, filled with a group made up of tourists and locals, was downstream when the Girl Guides hit the rock. The other raft waited at Devil's Elbow. Blatny and two children were pulled into the second raft and taken to the east side where they hiked up a steep area to the forestry road above the river then later driven to the Elaho Rivers bus.

According to Moir, people in the other raft rescued those two.

Moir, Laskovic and one of the children stayed with their raft after the high side incident. They were trapped for five and a half hours on the rock the raft hit.

Laskovic said Moir tried to hold onto the raft but in the initial confusion the raft slipped downstream, leaving the trio stranded in the middle of the river.

"We nicknamed our rock Survivor Island," Laskovic said. The trio passed the time by telling jokes and staying close to keep warm. While they were on the rock they had no idea of the tragedy that unfolded downstream.

Squamish Emergency Program Search and Rescue (SEP/SAR) volunteers played a key role in rescuing the trio from their rock.

Jim Lang of SEP/SAR said a shore rescue was ruled out so a Heli-Flight Rescue System (HFRS) team of trained experts was assembled. SEP/SAR volunteer John Howe from Squamish worked with two others from Whistler. One of the HFRS trained rescuers harnessed to a cable dropped down to the rock three separate times to take the stranded trio out of danger one at a time.

A total of 16 SEP/SAR volunteers were involved in the rescue.

The rafters who survived the accident came away cold and a few suffered minor injuries.

Moir reported the Elaho was at medium volume when the raft pushed off at noon from the spot known as The Tin Shed. Before the launch, Blatny said the group had an extensive safety lecture. Moir said safety gear was properly fitted then rechecked. Everyone wore helmets, certified whitewater personal floatation devices, wetsuits, spray jackets, thermal tops and neoprene booties.

Blatny and Laskovic were told before the trip that the passengers had to be 12 years of age or older and at least 90 lbs. The Guide leaders said nobody expressed concerns over whether or not the passengers would have enough strength to help maneuver the raft.

According to Moir, there are no regulations setting minimum ages and weights.

"Elaho River Adventures is a member in good standing of the BC River Outfitters Association (BCROA)," Moir wrote.

The BCROA requires member companies to comply with provincial rafting regulations that are no longer in effect.

"The river guides and safety kayaker on this trip were trained as swift water rescue technicians and are certified as BC Trip Leaders, the highest certification provided under the previous BC Provincial river rafting regulations," said Moir in his news release. Between the guides they had more than 800 commercial rafting trips logged on the river without serious incident.

The RCMP helped coordinate the rescue but handed the investigation over to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada and Coroner Brian Pothier.

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